Is Your Child’s Pediatrician Better Than a Smartphone?

Dr. Chad Hayes, a pediatrician in South Carolina, recently published an opinion editorial in the Washington Post, below is a summary of his piece.

Technology in medicine is advancing everyday. Today, surgeons are able to perform minimally invasive procedures utilizing robots. Radiologists are able to review images and diagnose from halfway across the globe. Mental-health professionals can provide life-changing care to patients who previously did not have access. Modern technology has improved medical care in ways previously never imagined, however, when used inappropriately, it can cause substantial harm.

Telemedicine offers a vast number of benefits; when used appropriately. A growing number of primary-care doctors and specialists are offering virtual visits (along with the assistance of a nurse who is physically with the patient), utilizing video screens and advanced equipment to listen to heart and lungs, examine ears and throats, and perform other aspects of physical exams remotely. On the other hand, urgent-care services are delivering care to patients in their homes utilizing smart phone technology, and nothing more.

The draw to utilizing telemedicine for parents is simple, they can seek after-hours care for their children, hoping to provide their children medicine and care as quickly as possible. Insurance companies are pushing for these services as a way to save money, with lower overhead costs, insurers are paying a portion of the cost of an office visit for a telemedicine consult. But unfortunately, a face-to-face office visit is still superior and less risky.

For example, strep throat should never be diagnosed without a rapid strep test or culture. Urinary tract infections in children also require sending a sample to a laboratory for diagnosis. Children with potential cases of pneumonia need to be examined in-person to ensure no further hospitalization is needed. Collecting throat cultures, urine samples, and hands-on examinations can not be performed using smartphone telemedicine technologies as of today, yet a number of cases of infections are being treated without appropriate evaluations. Without access to required and appropriate testing, misdiagnoses are inevitable.

Pediatric telemedicine, when used appropriately, is a valuable and beneficial service. Follow-up visits for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, routine visits for management of asthma or allergies, behavioral concerns or potty-training issues, common rashes, and health eating and exercise discussions, are all scenarios in which telemedicine is an appropriate method of care.

For parents seeking telemedicine services, it is recommended to avoid physicians who offer to treat strep throat, ear infections, urinary tract infections or pneumonia without having the ability to perform the appropriate testing. Additionally, for any life threatening conditions such as difficulty breathing, traumatic injuries, or prolonged seizures, please seek immediate in-person care.

For the full Washington Post article on pediatric telemedicine, click here.

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